The 20X Prize

I was listening to the latest episode of the Freakonimics Radio podcast and how competition is used to drive innovation. The examples were Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, the X-Prizes given to achieve various goals, and the United States Department of Education's Race to the Top competition. Google's 20% time was also mentioned. In the 20% time, employees are expected to use 20% of their work week to develop independent projects that would be innovative and help the company. Gmail is an example of a successful 20% project. The podcast talked about how such initiatives could help solve education's problems.

I thought "why not"? Let's have an X-Prize competition at the school or district level to stimulate innovative ideas! Cash prizes could be given to those who develop programs that raise student achievement. Winner take all, no points for second place! Winners at the school level could compete at the district level and, possibly, the state level. The rules could look something like this:


  • Winner must demonstrate an increase of student achievement on state standardized tests. 
  • The winning idea must be cross-curriculum. 
  •  The winning program must be trainable. 
  •  The winning program must be sustainable. 


 The 20% proposal would give teachers time to develop ideas to increase student achievement. Teachers submitting a proposal could be excused from staff meetings, duties, and/or staff development with the understanding that is time given to work on the proposed project. Projects are presented to a pannel who allow projects to continue with development or end them. This could be done in a TED-type forum to allow discussion. Financial rewards are give to ideas that are adopted.

The purpose Of these two ideas is to tap back into teachers' creativity which seems to be getting lost in the era of stanfardized testing. Education will have to be fixed from the ground up. Solutions will need to be creative to actually work. The two ideas I outlined above could help on these two accounts. Both ideas would generate thousands of ideas and most of them will not work. However, it could allow the two or three ideas to rise to the surface. What do you think? Let the games begin!